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Archive for August, 2019

Go Like Sixty

Posted by Admin on August 27, 2019

If you say you’re going like sixty, you probably also say you’re going a mile a minute. The idiom going like sixty means you — or the person or thing to which you are referring — is going fast or doing something very quickly.

Most people believe the idiom relates to cars or trains, and in fact, that would make sense. In 1848, the Boston and Main Railroad was the first to have an authenticated average speed of 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). However, that was 51 years before the car named La Jamais Contente, driven by Belgian Camille Jenatzy, was clocked doing 60 miles per hour on 1 May 1899 in Achères, Yvelines near Paris, France.

SIDE NOTE 1: The car was equipped with Michelin rubber tires, and his father, Constant Jenatzy, was a manufacturer of rubber products which was a novelty during this era.

The Cash Box magazine edition of 28 February 1948 Volume 9, No. 22) used the idiom on Page 11, in the Record Reviews section. Perry Como’s “Haunted Heart” was the Disk O’ The Week and directly beneath that review was a review for Johnny Moore’s song “Teresa.”

Subtle and warm tones of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers and a ditty that should go like sixty. With piper Charles Brown to spill the vibrant and haunting vocal score to “Teresa,” the deck stacks up for a slew phono play. Instrumental tones offered her are excellent with a wonderful guitar spot by Oscar Moore rounding out the side.

SIDE NOTE 2: The Cash Box was touted as the confidential weekly to the coin machine industry, and this magazine even had a “roving reporter” interviewing and reporting on items of interest to lovers of jukebox hits.

Flying Grandma or Going Like Sixty” by Maude Squire Rugus was published by University Lithoprinters of Ypsilanti (MI) in 1942, and did well with book lovers everywhere.

The phrase “like sixty” appeared in Chapter One of James T. Farrell’s “Young Lonigan” (the first book of the trilogy).

“Spike Kennedy, Lord have mercy on his soul, he was bit by a mad dog and died, would get up on one of the cars and throw coal down like sixty, and they’d scramble for it.”

In Volume XXIII, Volume 1 of “The Irrigation Age” published in November of 1907, an advertisement was published that referred to goes like sixty. It had nothing to do with a car, but it did have to do with speed.

SIDE NOTE 3: The Gilson Manufacturing Company was founded in 1850 on the shores of Lake Michigan in Port Washington in Wisconsin). The company was making gas engines by 1898, and established a manufacturing plant in Guelph, Ontario (Canada).

From the 1904 short story, Holding Up A Train by O. Henry:

What it was there for, I don’t know. I felt a little mad because he had fooled me so. I stuck the harp up against his mouth.

“If you can’t pay – play,” I says.

“I can’t play,” says he.

“Then learn right off quick,” says I, letting him smell the end of my gun-barrel.

He caught hold of the harp, turned red as a beet, and commenced to blow. He blew a dinky little tune I remembered hearing when I was a kid:

Prettiest little gal in the country – oh!
Mammy and Daddy told me so.

I made him keep on playing it all the time we were in the car. Now and then he’d get weak and off the key, and I’d turn my gun on him and ask what was the matter with that little gal, and whether he had any intention of going back on her, which would make him start up again like sixty.

The first usage in the New York Times newspaper of that exact phrase happened on 24 August 1895, when it was reported that a group of kids got locked and trapped in a railroad freight car and the train started up. They weren’t found for quite some time, and when they were found, they described their hair-raising adventure, with one boy quoted as saying the train “was going like sixty.

This would indicate that the expression actually has nothing to do with how fast a car traveled in 1895 (as the record for a car traveling that fast was still 4 years away), and is related to how fast a train traveled in the 1890s.

According to John Stephen Farmer Henley in 1903, the book “Household Words” published an issue on 18 September 1886 which stated to go like sixty meant rapidity of motion. This was confirmed by Frank Vizetelly and Leander Jan De Bekker in their book, “A Desk-book of Idioms and Idiomating Phrases in English Speech and Literature.”

However, back in 1848, when the Boston and Main Railroad traveled at authenticated average speeds of 60 miles per hour, it was thought that traveling at such a rate would cause passengers to suffocate as the surrounding air rushed past them. Many spoke of being winded after riding a thoroughbred horse that could hit 40 miles per hour for short bursts, and after riding a galloping horse at 30 miles per hour for longer than short bursts.

There were reports of railway madmen in rail cars who calmed back down as trains slowed down upon arriving at train stations. The speed of the train was blamed for the insanity known as “delirium furiosum” that overcame those who suffered from railway mania — as was reported in “The Medical Times and Gazette” in July of 1863.

Idiomation pegs the idiom to between 1850 and 1860 to give enough time for the hysteria of traveling at 60 miles per hour to gain traction among the fearmongers and naysayers.

As an added bonus, here’s what some people in the 1920s had to say about all that medical mayhem about train speeds the Bavarian psychiatrists were going about a few decades earlier.

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Forty Winks

Posted by Admin on August 20, 2019

The language of slumber is one that has some strange twists and turns to it, where sense seems to be nonsense, and nonsense sometimes makes sense.

If you need to catch or take forty winks, you need a nap because forty winks isn’t a good night’s sleep. But why do people call a nap forty winks?

A blink doesn’t last long. It doesn’t even last a second. But if all you need is a few minutes rest, then forty winks should be enough … especially during the day.

But how long is a blink? A blink is longer than a jiffy (read up on shake of a lamb’s tail for more details on this) so scientifically speaking, forty winks should be about 15 seconds long. Since most naps are far longer than 15 seconds, the idiom is meant to imply a forty wink nap is not dissimilar from how short employers feel a coffee break should be.

SIDE NOTE 1: In astrophysics and quantum physics a jiffy is the time it takes for light to travel one fermi. A fermi is about the size of a nucleon.

A full cycle nap according to scientists and medical researchers is 90 minutes long. A cat nap is much shorter at 7 minutes.

That being said, the number forty has been used since long before Biblical times to describe an indefinite time — long but not too long. Shakespeare used the number in some of his plays in this way, and even Welsh poet, orator, and Church of England priest George Herbert (3 April 1593 – 1 March 1633) used the number similarly in a letter to his father in law, John Danvers, when he ended it with this closing.

I have forty businesses in my hands: your Courtesie will pardon the haste of
Your humblest Servant,
George Herbert.

SIDE NOTE 2: George Herbert was the brother of the 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury. They and their eight siblings were the grandchildren of Sir Edward Newport, Lord of Cherbury. They were also the grandchildren of Sir Richard Newport, ruler of souther Powys. THeir father, Richard Herbert was the sheriff and deputy lieutenant of the county of Montgomery.

That being said, a wynk (wink) meant a sleep in the 14th Century when William Langland (1332 – 1400) wrote “Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman” published in 1377. In fact, in his epic poem, there is a lot of wynkyng, none of which involved anything but sleep.

In Volume I, in “Passus Quintus de Visione, ut supra” (which was the second vision the dreamer had which is retold in this poem), the poet wrote:

Thanne waked I of my wynkyng,
And wo was withalle,
That I ne hadde slept sadder,
And y-seighen moore.

So how and when did forty get hitched to winks (or wynks) — and separated from one wink (or wynk) meaning a sleep — to mean a nap?

Back in 1960, the B-side on the Neil Sedaka release “Stairway To Heaven” was written by Barry Mann and Larry Kolber, and told the story of a lonely guy far away from his gal, but he knew she was just “Forty Winks Away” in his dreams.

On 15 March 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) published a short story in The Saturday Evening Post titled, “Gretchen’s Forty Winks.” The number forty appears a number of times in the story, but in relation to taking a nap, it is found in this passage.

When Tompkins dropped them in front of their house at eleven Roger and Gretchen stood for a moment on the sidewalk looking at the winter moon. There was a fine, damp, dusty snow in the air, and Roger drew a long breath of it and put his arm around Gretchen exultantly.

‘I can make more money than he can,’ he said tensely. ‘And I’ll be doing it in just forty days.’

‘Forty days,’ she sighed. ‘It seems such a long time–when everybody else is always having fun. If I could only sleep for forty days.’

‘Why don’t you, honey? Just take forty winks, and when you wake up everything’ll be fine.’

She was silent for a moment.

In Act III, Scene I of the play “Deacon Brodie or the Double Life” by Robert Louis Stevenson (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) and William Ernest (W.E.) Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) and published in 1882 (just a few years before Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886), the characters Jean, Smith, and Moore find themselves in a public place in Edinburgh, loitering. The exchange with forty winks mentioned is found at the beginning of the scene.

MOORE:
Wot did I tell you? Is he ‘ere, or ain’t he? Now, then. Slink by name and Slink by nature, that’s wot’s the matter with him.

JEAN:
He’ll no be lang; he’s regular enough, if that was a’.

SMITHER:
Badger, you brute, you hang on to the lessons of your dancing-master. None but the genteel deserves the fair: does they, Duchess?

MOORE:
O rot! Did I insult the blowen? Wot’s the matter with me is Slink Ainslie.

SMITH:
All right, old Crossed-in-love. Give him forty winks, and he’ll turn up as fresh as clean sawdust and as respectable as a new Bible.

MOORE:
That’s right enough; but I ain’t agoing to stand here all day for him. I’m for a drop of something short, I am. You tell him I showed you that (showing his doubled fist). That’s wot’s the matter with him.

SIDE NOTE 3: Deacon William Brodie was a cabinet maker, town councilman, and head of the Incorporation of Wrights and Masons in Edinburgh by day, and the head of a burglary gang who had a serious gambling addiction and two mistresses by night. He was caught during an armed robbery at Chessel Court in 1786 and hanging two years later on 1 October 1788.

SIDE NOTE 4: The character of Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Long John Silver was inspired by William Ernest Henley who suffered from tuberculousis of the bone from the time he was 12 years of age, resulting in the amputation of his left leg below the knee at age 20.

SIDE NOTE 5: William Ernest Henley’s daughter, Margaret, was the inspiration for Wendy in the J.M. Barrie children’s classic, Peter Pan. Unfortunately, she was a sickly child and died on 11 February 1894 at age five. The play first opened on 27 December 1904 at the Duke of York Theater in London.

In Volume 55 of the Westminster Review published in mid-1851, an extensive article discussed electro-biology as a repackaging of charlatanism, somnolism, phycheism, and mesmerism. The expression forty winks — in quotation marks — was used.

The Fakirs of India are said to throw themselves into a trance by looking at the tips of their noses; but whether trance be induced, or sleep, by that or any corresponding process, must always depend, more or less, upon the constitution of the patient. The same visual or mental effort that would give to one person his quiet “forty winks” after dinner, would throw an epileptic person into a fit.

SIDE NOTE 6: Mesmerism is named after Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (23 May 1734 – 5 March 1815) which he introduced to society in 1770. He is considered the father of hypnosis. It was not accepted as a viable therapy until 1958 when the American Medical Association approved hypnosis as a therapeutic procedure.

Back in 1828 when George Eliot was Mary Ann Cross — and long before she married her husband Mr. Evans — she wrote in her journal that she had “forty winks on a sofa in the library.”

Dr. William Kitchiner (1775 – 1827) wrote a self-help guide, published in 1821, which was titled, “The Art of Invigorating and Prolonging Life by Food, CLothes, Air, Exercise, Wine, Sleep, and More.” Already known for his previous books, including “The Cook’s Oracle”, The Literary Chronicle and Weekly Review of London (England) reviewed the Dr. Kitchiner’s latest book in its November 24th edition that year.

The review begins with letting readers know that not only is Dr. Kitchener the author of a number of books, but also the author of a book on telescopes which proved him to be “an excellent optician.” The reviewer also saw fit to state that the author was known to his friends as “a musical amateur, an advocate for good living at the least possible expense, for indulging in all the luxuries of epicurism, with due care to avoid its injurious effects.” A nod to the author’s age — that being 43 years of age at the time the book was published — is mentioned as well.

The review included this passage:

Sleep is a subject on which our author acknowledges his feelings are tremblingly alive; he is fond of a ‘forty-winks‘ nap in an horizontal posture, as the best preparative for any extraordinary exertion, either of body or mind.

Idiomation was unable to find an early published version of forty winks meaning a nap — not a long sleep — prior to 1821 when it is used in quotations. So while winks (and wynks) clearly referred to sleep for a few hundred years, forty winks meaning a nap seems to have come about in the early 1800s.

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Crazy As A Bed Bug

Posted by Admin on August 15, 2019

Have you ever heard someone claim someone else is crazy as a bed bug? Have you wondered how in the world someone would know if a bed bug was crazy?

The expression refers to someone who is behaving in a way that makes no sense at all. In other words, that person is acting so crazy that it’s crazier than what one would expect from a crazy person. Imagine the most eccentric lunatic, and that person would be crazy as a bed bug.

Bed bugs have been around for centuries, making their first literary appearance in Aristotle’s tome “Historia Animalia.” They have been the bane of people’s existence since long before Aristotle made mention of them in his tome.

It was a sufficiently interesting expression that in 1938, Dr. Anne E. Perkins wrote two articles for the American Speech magazine. The first was titled, Vanishing Expression of the Main Coast (Vol III, pp 138-141) and More Notes on Main Dialect (Vol. V, pp 118-131). In both articles, she claimed the expression as being unique to Ohio.

It wasn’t just an expression people in Ohio used as is found in a Rice v the State in the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas on November 6, 1907, and referred to a letter written in 1904. Convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the State penitentiary, Rice was found guilty of murdering his wife on 6 December 1904. He had administered strychnine from a fountain syringe into his wife, and, of course, she died.

In 1904, Mr. Rice and his wife lived in the small town of Joshua in Joshua County (TX) and the accused was well known for neglecting his wife in favor of women living in Fort Worth. It took an hour for his wife to die, and during this time she stated in front of witnesses and her husband that her husband was responsible for poisoning her.  At the time of the trial, it was learned that Mr. Rice had encouraged one of his female friends by the name of Nellie Long to send his wife strychnine poison in a fake headache compound with directions that only she was to use the remedy.

His appeal referenced testimony from the trial, included this:

He further testified that from his acquaintance and conversation with her he was so alarmed, that he wrote to J.M. Rice, brother of the defendant, at Ranger, Texas, on the subject. This letter of date June 23, 1904, written by E.J. Rice to J.M. Rice was read in evidence. This letter, among other things, recites that deceased had been on a visit to him but he, witness, was sorry to see Mandy, the deceased, crazy, but that she was as crazy as a bed bug and was jealous about Ward being too thick with other women and advised J.M. Rice to go and see defendant, and have him to have the deceased adjudged insane.

In 1893, H.A. Shands (Fellow in English, University of Mississippi) published a book titled, “Some Peculiarities of Speech in Mississippi.” It was written as a thesis for his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Mississippi, with a focus on collecting dialect words and phrases — excluding slang phrases — that were peculiar or very common in Mississippi.  In his thesis, he included crazy as a bed bug but stated he was unsure of its origins, or whether it was an expression specific to Mississippi. As an added note, he stated in Germany the expression was ‘as impudent as a bed bug.’

A decade earlier, however, the expression had been used by the Anderson Intelligencer newspaper published in South Carolina on 06 November 1884 with regards to an unfortunate situation.  The article was published just two days after the presidential election of 1884 where Democrat Grover Cleveland of New York defeated Republican James G. Blaine of Maine in what is still considered one of the most acrimonious presidential campaigns in the history of presidential elections in the U.S.

SIDE NOTE 1: The 1884 presidential election was marked by bitter mudslinging and scandalous accusations

A well-known business man of Chicago surprised his friends, the other day by turning up as crazy as a bed bug. As he had no bad habits and was in a sound financial condition, people were puzzled over his sudden derangement, but the mystery was fully explained when it was discovered that the unfortunate man’s mind had been unhinged by reading campaign literature. The only wonder is that the entire country is not full of howling lunatics.

In October of 1874, the “History of Madison, the Capital of Wisconsin, including the Four Lake Country of Wisconsin” by Daniel S. Durrie (1819 – 1892), Librarian of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin was published.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Daniel S. Durrie was also known as Daniel Steele.

In Chapter VI, the story of Tom Jackson, a man of Scottish origin, was recounted. Tom Jackson (known as Jack by everyone) had come to Madison (WI) as a ship sawyer to assist in ripping out (with a whip-saw) a great deal of the lumber that was used in building the old Capital.

Jack was soon on his feet, as crazy as a bed-bug — could find nothing, and relieved himself by many a hard oath, directed at persons and things about him. In his searches for his pants, he caught hold of a sailor-jacket belonging to one of his room mates, and imagining the garment to be his breeches, thrust his feet through the sleeves, and finding them too short for his legs, uttered a fearful judgment upon the man who had cut off the legs of his pantaloons!

Two decades earlier, the expression was used when reporting on the testimony of an African-American brought up before the Mayor of Philadelphia for stealing chickens, as reported by the Missouri Whig newspaper in Palmyra (MO) 02 March 1854.  Supposedly, the accused gave this up as his reason for the caper.

“I was crazy as a bed bug when I stole dat pullet, coz I might hab stole the big rooster and neber done it. Dat shows ‘clusively to my mind dat I was laboring under de delirum tremendus.”

The interesting thing about bed bugs during this period is that they were also referred to as Kalamazoo bedbugs. That being said, no one ever said someone was crazy as a Kalamazoo bedbug.

While the English started using the word bug to refer to insects in 1642, the word bed bug referring to blood-sucking insects that were found in beds and bedding came into use in 1772.

It is thought that bed bugs were introduced into England by way of fir timber imported to rebuild London after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and once rebuilt, many of the new homes suffered from bugs that got into beds and bedding, and bit people. It wasn’t long before people realized bed bugs also enjoyed the creature comforts of heavy drapes and padded chairs.

By 1810, a slang term for an upholsterer was a bug-hunter.

But why are people who are acting irrationally said to be crazy as a bed-bug? Well, while bed-bugs have incredible survival instincts, and while bed-bugs are methodical in their feeding patterns, those raised welts on people and animals due to bed-bug bites cause intense itching — sometimes enough to figuratively drive a person crazy.

Although Idiomation wasn’t able to pinpoint an exact date for the expression, the fact that people with no access to education in 1854 were using the expression means it was an idiom understood by people from all classes. For this reason, Idiomation puts the idiom’s probable inception to a generation earlier to some point in the 1820s, and possibly earlier based on the slang term for an upholsterer.

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Crazy Like A Fox

Posted by Admin on August 13, 2019

Back in 2014, Idiomation tracked down the roots of crazy as a loon (sometimes known as crazy like a loon). Its origins reached back to 1800, but what about crazy like a fox?

When someone is crazy like a fox, it’s understood the person in question is able to outwit others very easily thanks to its cunning nature and intelligence.

How smart are foxes? According to an article published on 11 January 1896 in the Brownsville (Texas) Daily Herald, foxes will circle back to their earlier trail, run backwards in it for a while, and then take off in another direction knowing it will cause confusion for the dogs and humans tracking it.  Undoubtedly, if a person saw a fox running backwards, that person most likely would think the fox was crazy. After all, what animal runs backwards in the direction it can’t see if danger is approaching?

According to the reporter, the trick worked for the fox, and left those tracking it at a loss as to where the fox went, so it’s not so crazy after all.  That’s a pretty smart move!

Chicago Tribune television writer Allan Johnson wondered in his column of 8 April 1999 about a network’s sanity when it came to moving the animated series Futurama to a new time slot. Even the series’ creator, Matt Groenig of Simpson’s fame questioned the network’s move.  Johnson started his column with this introduction which, of course, includes a lovely play on words both for the idiom as well as for the network involved.

Futurama’s network may be crazy as a Fox for moving the animated series from sure success on Sunday nights to a possibly deadly Tuesday night berth.

The idiom at that point had been around at least 50 years.  Back in 1926, American comedian and actor Charley Chase starred in a silent movie titled, “Crazy Like A Fox.”

SIDE NOTE 1: This is the movie where Oliver Hardy played a small role just before he teamed up with Stan Laurel to become Laurel and Hardy.

SIDE NOTE 2: In 1937, while at Columbia Picture, Charley Chase filmed a remake of the movie with sound, and retitled it, “The Wrong Miss Wright.”

SIDE NOTE 3: Charley Chase directed a number of Three Stooges movies during his time with Columbia Pictures, most of which were for Hal Roach.

On 18 January 1907, the Spokane Press newspaper of Washington state, published a short article titled, “Parker Says He Is Insane.” Prize fighter, William Parker aka Denver “Kid” Parker proclaimed to a group of people the morning this edition was published that everyone was insane, and perfect sanity could only be had after death. The article stated in part:

One often hears the remark, “Kid Parker is crazy.” The kid this morning pleaded guilty to being crazy but “crazy like a fox.” The kid has some ideas that one seldom finds in the average prize fighter.

Just a few months later, the New York Sun newspaper was publishing “Knockerino Points Out A Few Flaws.” In the 9 June 1907 edition, the fictional story continued with Mr. Knockerino entering the dining car of an early train for Philadelphia and spied an acquaintance having breakfast alone at a table. He sat down without being invited and began talking. His monologue included this tidbit.

“I’ll just sit in for a beaker of Java, and let you tell me all you know, old pallie. Ha! Yu’re there with the tank’s breakfast, eh? Grapefruit to take up the lost motion and a salt mackerel to give the machinery a tune up, hey? I guess that isn’t the souse’s morning meal or nothing! What? That’s what you have every morning whether you’ve been out the night before or not? Behave that cutting up! Didn’t I see you at 2 o’clock this morning licking up the beads of the hiss fluids like as if somebody’d tipped you off that they were going to stop making it and you wanted to get yours down all at once before the shutdown? I’m as crazy as a fox, hey?”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of crazy like a fox or crazy as a fox, so the expression is from around 1900.

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